PERSPECTIVE: Heineken's exit from Lowe gives a chance to celebrate fine ads

It's the end of an era. Heineken and Sir Frank Lowe - once the closest of advertising couples - are to split as their 30th anniversary approaches.

Yet even Lowe's resignation of the business in the UK and Ireland cannot eclipse a marriage that has been the envy of the industry, provoking rival agencies and clients alike to wonder how it produced such memorable and enigmatic work.

Several ingredients have contributed to this vintage stream of beer ads. The originality of the advertising idea with its subversion of a Procter & Gamble-style product demonstration. An intelligent use of media with a TV-driven campaign enhanced by posters and a sprinkling of topical ads. A healthy disrespect for research, particularly at the beginning of the relationship when researchers consulted their one to ten scales and recommended to the then Whitbread marketing director, Anthony Simonds-Gooding, that the 1974 "policemen's feet spot, one of the all-time greats of British advertising, be put out of its misery.

Above all, the work was governed by a partnership between Sir Frank Lowe and successive Whitbread and Interbrew clients which, until an insurmountable conflict with Stella Artois presented itself, was able to weather the disagreements that naturally occur. Simonds-Gooding, Miles Templeman, Frazer Thompson, Simon McQuiggan, Richard Evans and now Leslie Meredith have all had responsibility for the brand.

To those of you who would dismiss my words as so much Campaign spiel, let me direct you to page 14 of this week's issue and a body of commercials and print work that has served as a magnet to attract smart people to the agency business.

But despite the best efforts of some of advertising's finest creatives from Terry Lovelock (author of the original "only Heineken can do this" line) to Alan Waldie, Mark Wnek, Adrian Holmes, Derek Apps and others, this peerless advertising has been undermined by acute marketing contradictions.

Not only has Heineken favoured heavy price discounting in the take-home market, it is a brand that has become less relevant as the UK has developed a taste for stronger lagers. Only now, as this cheap, weak beer prepares to match its positioning in the rest of the world and launch a stronger brand, will its advertising be able to mirror its marketing objectives.

Only now will it be able to challenge the market leadership of Stella Artois (which, talking of enigmas, isn't "reassuringly expensive but rather keenly priced).

It's a shame that Lowe will not be the agency to take it forward but this is as severe a conflict as it's possible to imagine. The smart money's on Clemmow Hornby Inge to take the account without a pitch. For obvious reasons connected with Charles Inge's long history at Lowe, well, there would be a nice symmetry in that for all concerned.

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